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Saddleback goes Non-profit

The ongoing ownership conundrum of Saddleback Mountain, Maine’s third-largest ski area, could be coming to an end. A group of local business owners and Saddleback season passholders have formed Saddleback Community Mountain Resort LLC, with the intention of purchasing the ski area from the Berry family and turn it into a community owned non-profit enterprise.

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The group has a verbal agreement with the Berry family to purchase the core ski area for $6 million. The foundation would pay the Berry’s $2.2 million in cash, and the remaining $3.8 million would be paid over time through a loan financed through the seller. The Berrys would also receive royalties on future land sales, according to a report by the Portland Press Herald. There is no deadline to secure the funds, and it is uncertain whether the resort will open this winter.

“It depends how much we are able to raise, and how fast,” said Peter Stein, organizer of the Saddleback Mountain Foundation. “We will not jeopardize the long term for one season. But we want to be sensitive to everyone … especially to the economic impact this has had on the region.”

Saddleback is located near Rangeley, a relatively remote area of lakes and mountains, popular with snowmobilers and, up until last season, skiers and riders during the winter. “This past winter, the Rangeley region experienced $17-$20 million in lost revenue because Saddleback was closed,” said Stephen Philbrick, owner of Bald Mountain Camps in Oquossoc and a member of the Saddleback Mountain Group, which is doing the fundraising.

Eric Friedman, marketing director of Mad River Glen, Vt., was present at today’s press conference to support a project based on the co-op ownership model MRG utilizes. Friedman said that, after speaking to Stein in the summer and seeing what they had planned, he realized “they have the pieces in place for success.”

Prior to today’s press conference, the Saddleback group had said a survey and other financial queries showed there are “more than 800 people interested in keeping the mountain open and more than $5 million in commitments.”

Several Maine ski areas are non-profit and/or community owned operations. Bigrock, Black Mountain, Baker Mountain, Lonesome Pine Trails, and Spruce Mountain are all non-profit. Big Squaw is privately owned, but operated by a non-profit, Powderhouse Hill is town-owned, and also operated by a non-profit, and Camden Snow Bowl is owned by the town. Saddleback would add to that list.

Of course, when the Berry family purchased Saddleback in 2003, it had different ideas. The Berrys invested $40 million in new lifts, snowmaking, a base lodge, condos, and expanded terrain.

However, they have had the resort on the market since 2012. In 2015, the family said it would not be able to open the mountain until it could secure $3 million to replace the summit lift, or find a buyer. Neither happened, and the resort remained closed last winter.

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